- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Gun show advocates say a little-noticed provision in a proposed federal law to require background checks at gun shows will put the shows out of business entirely.
"I think that if the bill were passed there wouldn't be two show producers left in the country," said Wally Beinfeld, head of the National Association of Arms Shows. "It would be the end of the business because both the producers and the exhibitors would be at such great risk that nobody would take the risk."
Existing law requires federally licensed gun dealers to put gun purchasers through background checks in a federal database — whether the sale is at the dealer's store or a gun show.
But unlicensed individuals, often selling or trading their personal collections, can go to any of the 4,400 gun shows every year and sell a weapon without requiring a background check of the buyer.
The McCain-Lieberman bill, named after chief sponsors Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, would make those unlicensed individuals obtain secondary vendor's licenses.
Those vendors would need show promoters to help them access the background check system, so the law for the first time would require promoters to obtain federal "special firearms event operators" licenses.
Promoters would have to report every vendor who is expected to attend the show, as well as submit a list afterward of every vendor who did attend.
They also would be responsible for notifying show participants of the new rules restricting sales to licensed dealers.
Federal penalties would await anyone who deliberately skirts the law.
"The potential liability is obviously onerous," said James Baker, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. "That's not to say that show promoters don't currently try to monitor the shows, but this would make you liable to the federal government for every vendor's compliance at every gun show, with every crossed 't' and dotted 'i.' That's potentially an overwhelming burden to anyone wanting to get into the gun show promotion business."
Those pushing the bill say registering show promoters is necessary to solve the problem of unchecked sales, and that shutting down the shows is not the intent of the bill.
"This is for intentional violations of the law, and intent is a very significant concept in the law. The difference between intent and negligence is huge," said Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety, one of the premier groups pushing for the bill.
"A gun show promoter isn't liable for any criminal sanction unless they intentionally admit to the show someone selling guns and intentionally don't write their name down."
Opponents see a scenario where federal officials — who as part of the bill would be given $18 million to hire 200 additional Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents — would haul show producers into court and make them prove they followed the law.
Opponents also worry about the discretion the bill gives the Treasury secretary to set a fee for a promoter's license and to decide what information a promoter must provide to obtain a license.
"It's basically a regulatory handoff to the secretary of the Treasury," Mr. Baker said.
But Mr. Bennett said the law is written like most others to allow a normal amount of latitude for regulations.
"Generally when regulations are written they're written with an eye towards the underlying goal of the law, and the goal of the law is to get a sense of who's going to be selling at an event," he said.
Opponents say the bill doesn't have a chance of passing, partly because it has split gun control advocates.
While Mr. Bennett's group and a cross-section of lawmakers support it, the Violence Policy Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — formerly Handgun Control Inc. — say the bill doesn't go far enough in ensuring background checks.
They have urged lawmakers instead to pass a more restrictive bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

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